Freud….Cynic or Critic


In “The future of An Illusion”, many citizens are left to fend for themselves on a path of self-destruction. Freud believed that the most pivotal assets to having superior mental abilities can be attributed to a good set of morals as well as art and ideals. Freud believed that the physical yields of a society as well as the skills and actions of a society are the “Narcissistic Ideal.” A society based on these ideals has a clear and definable direction to which that society is going. He also believed that religion clearly outlines, as well as supports, a proper moral path for citizens to follow.

It is asserted in various religions that the individual is the enemy of society in various definitions. It is wrong for a citizen to give in to his/her more primal urges such as sexual acts or envy. Should these individuals renounce these primal urges, some sort of divine reward is secured for themselves. Freud believed that these urges, though they can be recognized, cannot be completely renounced. Citizens believe in religion for various reasons. Most simply, religion stemmed back from our ancestors and it is wrong to question the elder. Freud believes that it is our duty as citizens to question what our ancestors are informing us with, especially if it really is fact.

Freud also has a theory that Gods are needed to explain the natural terrors, and satiate our fears of natural phenomena that citizens are unable to control, death and natural disaster just being a few examples. Citizens are able to project the shortcomings of the world around them on religion because he/she/it would be an overlying fated power. In many monotheistic religions, God is seen as an omniscient and omnipotent father figure in the way that it would lead citizens through the greater challenges life presents them with.

In all, Freud hopes that in the future of civilization, “science will go beyond religion, and reason will replace faith in God.” Although, his reasoning is understandable, one must also respect that this theory could be viewed as cynical to those who follow religious practices. Freud attempts mainly to separate from any blurred lines of reality as much as possible. Such psychoanalysis of citizens of his time, as well as separation of his theories from spirituality is quite distinct from other writers we have studied thus far this semester and should be noted.

To Speculate Darkly

If you caught this year’s Walter Harding lecture by Prof. Pier Gabrielle Foreman, “To Speculate Darkly: Slavery, Black Visual Culture, and the Promises and Problems of Print,” you may be interested in visiting the website of the art exhibit from which the lecture’s title is drawn.

To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter was an exhibit hosted by The Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates explains the origins and aims of the exhibit in this video on his website. As Gates explains, the exhibit

explores the history and legacy of Dave Drake (also known as Dave the Potter). A slave in antebellum South Carolina, Drake produced stoneware pottery and famously adorned his pots with poetic couplets. Though historians and art historians have explored Drake’s career in detail, Gates is the first artist to reinterpret his work and to make it pertinent to a broader set of concerns about the place of labor and craft in present-day America. The exhibition’s provocative installation, titled To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter, features a gospel choir that engages the enigmatic, emotional works of poetry found on Drake’s pots. Gates created the captivating sound piece with musicians from both Milwaukee and Chicago. Gates further collaborated with local tradespeople to develop original ceramic works for the show. Thus, the project, as intended, has brought together two very different groups of people in partnership, and promises to create lasting relationships across the city.

Emotional Correctness

If anyone is interested, I stumbled upon a Ted Talk. Personally I enjoy Ted Talks because they are quick, entertaining, and mind opening. With what has recently been going on, in the world, in the United States, and right here in little Geneseo, I believe this one is pretty relevant. Sally Kohn is a lawyer, journalist, and political commentator, not to mention a lesbian. She has appeared on Fox News multiple times. This is her view on emotional correctness versus political correctness and where we, as a community, have gone wrong. (There is some swearing)

Kohn talks about the power of respecting each other on a personal level. We may not all agree on certain things, however, we need to “stop talking around each other, and start talking to each other.”

The other day, Mrs. Foreman showed examples of how slaves struggled to be heard. How they turned to art and print to appeal on an emotional level, not just a legal stance.Douglass, however, was filled with fire and passion in his fourth of July speech in Rochester. Yet, some of the stories he tells about women being ripped from children and the physical abuse reach the audience on an emotional level. Douglass goes on to call out the Catholic church claiming their actions in the slave movement are sacrilegious and contradictory. He concludes with “I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base presence, and your christianity as a lie.”

Kohn states “Political persuasion begins with emotional correctness.” One could argue Natural Law would go hand in hang with emotional correctness. Emotional correctness is feeling compassion and empathy for others around you. The power of emotional correctness could lead to reforms based off of natural law, providing better lives for blacks, Muslims, Syrians, and many more effected by racism and segregation today.

Thoreau’s Ideas are Still Relevant

Group 2

In class, we were discussing what Thoreau meant about being truly awake in his book, Walden. In paragraph 14 of “Where I lived and What I Lived for” he writes,

“Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly-acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air—to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light” (Thoreau, 1854).

We are not truly awake if we are content to live in a manner that does not fulfill us. It is so much easier to exist in a state of half-consciousness, where our actions are not derived from true inspiration. By living as others direct us, we abandon our inner callings and instead turn to work on something that holds no meaning. Thoreau changed his whole world in order to “live deliberately”; to shake off the mindless drone of purposeless life. He sought the meaning of what it is to be truly awake and shared what he discovered with us all.

Thoreau’s mission of trying to wake people out of their mindless monotony is still ongoing. In 2014, The Huffington Post published an article that aligned with Thoreau’s beliefs about living. I invite you to read it and share what you think.

Bronson Alcott and Thoreau group 5

          Alcott was one of the transcendentalists, which was a group of radical thinkers and writers of New England in the 1830’s. As an early admirer of Thoreau’s reasoned philosophy, they shared many similar ideas. They both believed that a more simple life with fewer obligations was a better path to happiness. He flatly rejected the accumulation of material goods, which Thoreau shows through his cabin and solitary life.

          Alcott was a farmer, lecturer, intellectual, and writer. The success of his efforts were limited. He set up a school of radical ideas and it eventually failed. The introduction of new subjects with an innovative form of teaching caused his students to withdraw from his classes and led to its failure. Later on he became a superintendent of schools in Concord and fulfilled a lifetime dream of opening “The Concord School of Philosophy.” His educational reform was introducing hands on work and new subjects such as physical education. He also worked to end hitting children in school and educating them on morals. Something interesting about this is his ideas were failures of  his time, but now something we follow and value.

          One source says that Alcott should be considered the most pure of the transcendentalists. His ideas revolved around equality, education, relations, and living a simple life. At one point in his life, Alcott built a short-lived utopia called “Fruitlands” that emphasized fair share of work, living simply, and being close to nature. We related Alcott to what Thoreau wrote in “sounds” where he finds entertainment and enjoyment in the simplest of things. 

Garrison and Thoreau

Group 4

Both William Loyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau both agreed on the fact that slavery was unjust and a violation of our most basic human rights. However they differed marginally on their ways of opposing.

Most notably Thoreau touched upon slavery in his essay Civil DisobedienceHere he concluded that should a government be unjust we are well within our rights to withhold our obedience. He questions when rebellion is justified, and in the case of him refusing to pay taxes to a government that supported war and slavery, things he found morally abhorrent, he felt justified. His problem with most reformers is the fact that they typically petitioned the government, thus recognizing an authority that it holds over them, and honoring the will of the majority. This is also applied to voting, because it only honored the will of the majority, when it was his view that the individual was the only decider of right and wrong. By simply refusing to pay their quota to the treasury the individual had the ability to not support their government in their decisions, in a clear nonviolent manner.

Similarly Garrison also advocated for nonviolent protests, and stressed passive resistance. He also called for immediate emancipation of all slaves, and said they could assimilate properly. Garrison was viewed as one of the most outspoken radical abolitionists, despite his passive resistance tactics. Whereas Thoreau was viewed as a spokesperson for abolition, he mostly restricted his help to the cause to the local and individual level, while Garrison published 1,820 issues of the Liberator. Garrison was more interested in reaching the majority of people in the farthest reach he could obtain.

The main characteristic difference we can find between the two despite their major similarities is Thoreau’s stress on the individual and resistance to the government. Although Garrison opposed slavery, he wrote as if pleading the government to make changes, where Thoreau was more inclined to just disregard the governments authority until they earned his disobedience. Garrison was moved to devote all of his energy and resources to a tireless crusade for abolition.

Margaret Fuller

group 6

A student of Emerson, Margaret Fuller was one of America’s first major feminist writers, authoring Summer on the Lakes and Women in the 19th Century.  She is well known for her literary criticism and journalism; she contributed to The Dial , a quarterly periodical that related ideas and opinions inherent to New England transcendentalism.  Though Fuller never met Thoreau in person, she was connected to him through shared ideals and Emerson.  The closest the two ever came to meeting was when Thoreau, sent by Emerson, visited the seen of her death.  Thoreau later wrote to Emerson about this visit and we were able to find, at least a piece of, what he wrote here.

In trying to connect Margaret with a section of Walden, we looked at “Reading” paragraph 12 where it says, “It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we become men and women.”  Given the fact that Fuller was clearly educated, even a professor, we believe that she would no doubt support this notion of Thoreau’s.  We thought it was also important that Thoreau was progressive enough to include women in that statement, seeing as how women didn’t often pursue advanced education at that time, let alone education after education, and as Margaret was a feminist, we thought she would have really appreciated that inclusion.

The Political Economy of 19th Century Philosophers (Group 6)

The Political Economy is a complex term that is challenging to define clearly. The term politics rooted in the definition, “of, for, or relating to citizens” whereas the term economy is rooted in “household management”.  Today this term is defined as the study of production and trade in relations with customs, government, and distribution of national income and wealth.  Philosopher John Ruskin’s theory on the origins of political economy is utilized to further our understanding in addition to Karl Marx’s input on this matter.

John Ruskin believed the political economy was a theoretical response to the vast expansion of manufacturing industry in the late eighteenth century and the consequent rise to power of middle-class entrepreneurs. The subsequent product is the oppression of the working class. One that is caused by the division of labor proposed by philosopher Adam Smith. 

Karl Marx takes this concept further by highlighting specific weaknesses in the political economy. For one, it does not factor in the labor that is exerted by the laborer, instead it considers only the capitalist’s labor production needs. This system does not explicitly define the value of labor, of capital, and the connection between capital and land.

Political economy throws no light on the cause of the division between labor and capital, and between capital and land. When, for example, it defines the relationship of wages to profit, it takes the interest of the capitalists to be the ultimate cause, i.e., it takes for granted what it is supposed to explain.”

Secondly, it does not predict the evolution of ideal situations turning harmful. Performing self-actualizing work such as crafting arts will eventually lead to patrons or interested consumers. The artist then becomes a businessperson due to their product’s success. Eventually, he or she will expand their business and prey on smaller ventures. Competition was fair at first, but then it grows into a monopoly. This is all driven by greed in wanting more from our products and to want even more from labor. 

Precisely because political economy does not grasp the way the movement is connected, it was possible to oppose, for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the doctrine of the freedom of the crafts to the doctrine of the guild, the doctrine of the division of landed property to the doctrine of the big estate – for competition, freedom of the crafts and the division of landed property were explained and comprehended only as accidental, premeditated and violent consequences of monopoly, of the guild system, and of feudal property, not as their necessary, inevitable and natural consequences.”